The way I see it, only four men and five women can be regarded as serious threats to win the world’s premier title this time around. In the end, among the men, the four prime candidates are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick. The five women whom I separate from the pack are Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur, although the latter is a long shot.
Let’s look at the draws. Federer may face some dangers from the fourth round on, but he should be relatively happy with his draw. Nadal’s path could be much more arduous. When Wimbledon announced they were upgrading Federer to No. 1 over Nadal in the seedings, it did not seem all that significant. But, as it turns out, the demotion of Nadal to No. 2 matters. Federer should move swiftly through the early rounds. The first seed he should meet is No. 30 Tommy Robredo. He could have a battle on his hands in the round of 16, when the Swiss would conceivably confront either the left-hander Feliciano Lopez (the No. 22 seed), or the Austrian southpaw Jurgen Melzer, a semifinalist at Roland Garros. On the grass, Lopez, who just made it to the semifinals at Queen’s Club with a win over Nadal, should have the edge. I see him facing Federer in the round of 16, and the Spaniard will win the first set. But Federer will come roaring back to gain the triumph in four sets for a place in the quarterfinals.
In that round, Federer will meet Tomas Berdych (the No. 12 seed), countryman Stanislas Wawrinka (No. 20) or No. 7 seed Nikolay Davydenko. Davydenko does not seem to be sharp enough yet to advance that far. His long layoff with a wrist injury set him back considerably. I see Federer taking on Berdych. Berdych has some confidence after winning his last meeting against Federer in Miami, when he saved a match point against his old rival, toppling the 16 time Grand Slam tournament champion for the first time since 2004. Berdych has the explosive game and the returns to worry Federer to a degree, but will he serve well enough to get the job done? I doubt it. Federer will find his range and, after losing the second set, pull away for a comfortable four set victory.
That win propels Federer into the semifinals. A cluster of men will be fighting ferociously for a place in the penultimate round. Novak Djokovic, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2007 but largely a disappointing performer on the grass, is seeded third, and should be the favorite to come through that section of the draw. I don’t believe he will. Djokovic might need to work inordinately hard against 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt in the round of 16. Hewitt just ended a 15 match losing streak against Federer in the final of Halle on grass, and that win could give him a substantial boost. He is seeded 15th. The Hewitt-Djokovic match could be a beauty, with both men fighting it out hard from the backcourt. But Djokovic, despite continued problems with his serving rhythm, will get by Hewitt in a five set showdown.
Andy Roddick, meanwhile, will have his own daunting challenge to overcome in the round of 16. The No. 5 seed could take on No. 11 seed Marin Cilic after winning a demanding four set encounter with Philipp Kohlschreiber, who toppled the American at the 2008 Australian Open. Cilic will meet the American Mardy Fish— one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw— in the second round. I see Cilic prevailing in a five set contest there, and then moving on to a fourth round collision with Roddick. Cilic held back Roddick in five sets at the Australian Open back in January, and he will make a go of it again in Great Britain. But Roddick’s high first serve percentage and his grass court acumen will be the difference in this encounter. Roddick will be the winner in four tight sets. In the quarterfinals, Roddick and Djokovic will have a bruising confrontation. Roddick will be burned for a while by the scorching returns of Djokovic, who will also be the better man from the baseline. But, in the end, Roddick will elevate his game and attack at the right times. He will advance to the semifinals in five tumultuous sets.
And so Roddick and Federer will meet for the fifth time at the world’s premier championship. Not only did Federer stop Roddick in an epic last year— overcoming the American 16-14 in the fifth set— but he also beat the American in the 2004 and 2005 finals, plus the 2003 semifinals. Roddick is 2-19 in his career against Federer, and has had to settle for two isolated wins over his nemesis on hard courts, prevailing in the semifinals of Montreal in 2003 and again in Miami two years ago. But the fact remains that he has competed well almost every time he has played Federer over the last three years. They will have another blockbuster here in the semifinals. Roddick will drop the opening set in a tie-break as both men serve prodigiously, but the American will take the second set 6-4, and go on to win the third 7-5.
With his back to the wall, down a break in the fourth set, Federer will reassert himself, securing that set in another tie-break. But, at the start of the fifth set, Roddick will catch Federer off guard with one of his few great returns of the match off the backhand. He will have the early break, and he will not be halted. Roddick will come away with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4 victory, and for the first time since 2002, Roger Federer will not be in the semifinals at the shrine of the sport.
On the other half, Nadal will be tested comprehensively. In the third round, he will do battle with Ernests Gulbis, the No. 27 seed from Latvia. Gulbis gave Nadal quite a scare in 2008 when they met at Wimbledon, losing in four sets. Their contest this time around will be similarly stressful for Nadal. Gulbis, after all, took a set off Nadal on the clay in Rome this season, and stayed with the Spaniard all the way to 4-4 in the final set before Nadal got the win. Gulbis is an enormously gifted player who can play on any surface, and Nadal will be hard pressed to break Gulbis more than a few times in this match. Gulbis will be overpowering and overwhelming at the outset, winning the first set. But Nadal will take the next two and then close out the match in a fourth set tie-break.
Yet Nadal’s struggles will not be over. He will play big John Isner in the round of 16. The 6’9” American played two impressive matches against Nadal earlier this year, taking a set off the Spaniard at Indian Wells, and acquitting himself well when they collided again on the clay in Madrid. Isner will not only be serving thunderbolts that seem to be coming down from the trees, but he will back his delivery up with some terrific low volleys off fine returns from Nadal. Isner will take command by winning the opening set in a tie-break, Nadal will capture the next two sets, and then Isner will regroup to win the fourth. The fifth set will be a tremendous tussle, but at 5-5 Nadal will break his daunting adversary and then serve out the match confidently. Nadal wins 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5.
In the quarterfinals, Nadal will find himself up against the man he just beat in the French Open final. Three years ago at Wimbledon, Soderling extended Nadal to 7-5 in the fifth set in the third round after losing the first two sets. Soderling is now a much more strategic and far superior server what he was was back then, and he will come at Nadal forcefully off the ground as well. But Nadal’s big point mastery will separate the two competitors. He will make some timely returns, refuse to lose his own serve more than once, and the Spaniard will be the victor over the Swede in four well played sets.
Waiting for Nadal in the semifinals will be Murray. Murray will have some anxious moments against Queen’s Club champion Sam Querrey in the fourth round. Querrey will build a two sets to one lead before Murray escapes with a five set triumph. In the quarters, the flamboyant Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will face Murray. Tsonga, the No. 10 seed, will move past No. 19 seed Nicolas Almagro, and then will win a spectacular five set clash with No. 9 seed Fernando Verdasco. Tsonga, however, will be worn down from some long matches, and Murray will be ready to exploit his edge. Moreover, the British crowd will lift the spirits of their man, and Murray will defeat Tsonga in four sets.
Nadal and Murray will have a fascinating showdown. Murray will have the upper hand early, serving as well as he can, acing Nadal down the T in the deuce court on some crucial points, taking control from the baseline with his two-handed backhand down the line and his inside-out forehand. Nadal will be slightly caught off guard, and he will play one nervous service game to lose the set. But Nadal will change the tempo of the match in the middle of the second set, adding velocity, spin and depth to his forehand, pushing Murray back farther and farther behind the baseline. Nadal will keep swinging his first serve wide to Murray’s two-handed backhand in the Ad court, and he will take the second and third sets. But Murray will reemerge in the fourth, and build a 5-2 lead.
The frenzied fans will be eagerly anticipating a fifth set, but Nadal will not go along with that scenario. The Spaniard will sweep five games in a row in a blaze of glory to get to the final. The fans will be absolutely torn as they watch Nadal and Roddick play for the title. They have seen Roddick lose those three finals to Federer across the years, and they vividly recall his gallant effort last July in the final. A large segment of the crowd believes Roddick deserves to be the Wimbledon champion at last, and they think it would be a fitting and crowning moment in his career. And yet, an equally big part of the audience is sympathetic to Nadal, who toppled Federer in the majestic final of 2008 but could not defend his title a year ago as tendinitis in his knees prevented him from playing.
This final will be exhilarating. Roddick will keep Nadal at bay with his explosive serve, and the kind of aggression off the forehand that he must produce. Roddick will flatten out that forehand over and over again, making Nadal pay a substantial price for every short ball. But Nadal will sedulously hold on to his own serve, and he will make some excellent returns off Roddick’s second serve. Nadal will also control a good share of the rallies, sending Roddick scurrying all over the court in pursuit of the Spaniard’s magnificent inside-out and crosscourt forehands, rolling his two-handed deep down the line and sharp crosscourt to keep on top of the points.
Nadal will win the first set by breaking serve at 4-4, but Roddick will strike back to win the second 7-5. The third will go to a tie-break, and it will be the pivotal set. Roddick will be serving at 4-3 in that sequence, up a mini-break, ready to take control of the contest. But a brilliant return from Nadal as he is stretched out wide on the forehand startles Roddick, who then double faults on the next point. Nadal wins the tie-break, and there is no halting him from there. Nadal beats Roddick 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3, winning Wimbledon for the second time, taking his eighth Grand Slam championship, reaffirming his status as the best player in the world.
Top seeded and defending champion Serena Williams figures to meet No. 16 seed Maria Sharapova in the round of 16 in a rematch of the 2004 final, which the Russian won in straight sets. Since then, however, Serena has owned Maria. After Sharapova beat Williams later in 2004, Serena has won their last four head to head clashes. Williams will be keyed up for this contest, and her returns will be far better than Sharapova’s. Williams will win 6-4, 6-3. Williams will upend Li Na in a three set quarterfinal. Na will defeat No. 19 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round and then will topple No. 7 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the round of 16. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki— the No. 3 seed— will be upset in the fourth round by No. 14 Victoria Azarenka. Stosur will stop No. 10 seed Flavia Penetta in the fourth round, and will then defeat Azarenka 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the quarters after Azarenka squanders three match points when serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set.
Williams will be looking to avenge her French Open loss to Stosur, and she will do just that. The No. 6 seed Stosur will serve for the opening set at 5-4, but Serena will strike back boldly to win 7-6 (4), 6-4. That win will put Serena back into the final. On the other half of the draw, No. 17 seed Henin has her work cut out for her. She will need to deal with No. 12 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia in the third round, and then will face countrywoman Clijsters in the match everyone will want to see. Henin has lost two agonizingly close matches to Clijsters this year, falling in final set tie-breaks in both Brisbane and Miami. But Henin, honing her grass court game impressively, striving to win the only major she had not yet taken, attacking skillfully on the grass and volleying crisply, will turn the tables on the No. 8 seed Clijsters. This time around, Henin wins 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a high quality encounter.
After that emotional triumph, Henin will have much work left to do. In the quarterfinals, she will play Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic remains somewhat suspect on grass courts, but she will display improved form this year, making more aggressive returns, going for bigger shots during the rallies, getting better depth on her second serve. Jankovic will play her usual good match against Henin. Every time they step on a court for a match, it is inevitably close. But Henin will extend her record over Jankovic to 11-0 with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory over the No. 4 seed and former world No. 1, moving into the semifinals with that win.
No. 2 seed Venus Williams will have a stern test in the third round with the explosive Alisa Kleybanova of Russia. The No. 26 seed will push Venus to her limits in a big hitting encounter, making her share of second serve return winners. But the five time champion Venus will somehow carve out a 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5 triumph. Dinara Safina— No. 1 in the world a year ago and the No. 20 seed now— will stop Shahar Peer in the third round but she will lose to Venus emphatically in straight sets in the round of 16.
In the quarterfinals, Venus will stop Marion Bartoli of France in a repeat of the 2007 final. Bartoli will have beaten French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the round of 16. And so the stage will be set for Venus Williams to meet Justine Henin, for the right to earn a final round appointment against Serena Williams. It will be a blockbuster duel featuring the dynamic power of Williams on serve and off the ground with the all court acumen of Henin. Henin won’t be able to get to the net as much as she would like during the rallies, but she will go in behind her second serve returns.
Venus will need to keep her first serve percentage in the range of 70%. And Henin will be feeling an enormous amount of pressure on her second serve as Venus fires away with excellent returns. Justine will need to gamble from time to time with bigger second deliveries, and she will serve her share of double faults. Williams will come out of the blocks in style and sweep through the opening set 6-3, but Henin will gradually get her bearings and find her game. She will strike back to win the second set 7-5, and then will rally again from 2-4 down in the final set for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory.
For the second time in 2010, it will be Serena Williams versus Justine Henin in the final of a major. The storyline will be similar. Williams will serve brilliantly in the opening set and will take it 6-4 on one break, but Henin will rescue herself from 1-3 in the second set to make it one set all. At 3-3 in the final set, Serena will be down 0-40 on her serve, but she will release a pair of aces and a daring forehand winner down the line to make it back to deuce. Serena will hold on, break Justine in the following game, and serve out the match commandingly. Williams beats Henin 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. She will be the Wimbledon champion for the fourth time. She will capture her 13th major title. She will be on top of the world.